The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 20 - 1/11/01
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Focus on the Money, not the "Odyssey"
Last week's opinion column "My Museum of the Mountain Man Odyssey" is unfair. I have discussed this issue extensively with Rob and feel it should be presented in a different light. I have not discussed this issue with anyone from the Museum Board or Historical Society and don't consider myself intimately familiar with the workings of either organization, but have worked with the Museum on several historical projects.
The legitimate debate here is should public money be given to the Museum of the Mountain Man, and if so how much and what should the public get in return. However, by focusing on his "Odyssey" and the difficulty he has had in getting answers, Rob's column leaves the overall impression that there is something fishy going on at the Museum, they are obstructing him, and that "big money" people will punish him for trying to pursue this story. Nothing fishy or dishonest is going on at the Museum.
The County Commissioners via the Museum Board have chosen to give the Historical Society money and there are no indications or even rumors that the money is being spent counter to their intent. Further, I am confident that the members of the Museum Board, Historical Society and Museum staff are all working with good intentions to make the Museum of the Mountain Man a first class museum. We can challenge their approach and probably even find mistakes, but I have seen absolutely no reason to question their motives or intents for preserving and presenting our history.
It would be nice if they felt comfortable answering all of Rob 's questions and opening their books for Rob, but that hesitation in itself does not mean they are hiding something and I would hope people don't make that conclusion. Many of us fear a reporter with the power of the press showing up and asking questions. Even if you have nothing to hide, you never know what the information will be used for and it's even worse when you think that reporter is looking for dirt.
For whatever reason, there appears to be a lack of trust and suspicion of motives on both sides. Although these feelings are unfortunate, hashing them out in a public forum does absolutely nothing to further and certainly detracts from the legitimate debate.
It does appear that the paperwork defining the relationship of the County and the Museum is inadequate or at least leads to questions. As Rob suggests, I hope that the Museum Board and the Museum will pursue a more substantial contract-for-service agreement that defines in detail the business relationship, ownership of artifacts, and the purpose of the public money. A good contract, available to the public, would eliminate the appearance of something to hide as well as protect both entities.
Also, I hope that Rob will refocus his public debate on the merits of spending public money, and how much, on the Museum and leave the personal "Odyssey" and problems with obtaining information out, unless he obtains specific information of illegal, unethical, or even incompetent activity.
Further, I hope Rob in the future in other stories will report on the years of hard work, volunteers, and founders that have made and still contribute to the Museum of the Mountain Man. Just as Rob suggests that the people shouldn't use "reputation, donated money and volunteer hours as a shield" to not answer questions, Rob should not ignore those things when presenting an image of the Museum in his newspaper.
Maybe it isn't perfect, but the Museum is a major accomplishment for such a small community especially for those of us who have a passion for history.
Mr. Gilchrist is a member of the Journal's Editorial Board
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